We believe that Academies have a damaging impact on children teachers and the whole community.
Reason one: Academies hand over state schools to sponsors
Creating Academies in place of community or foundation schools involves the transfer of publicly funded assets to unaccountable sponsoring bodies. Academy sponsors are given control of a modern independent school set up as a company limited by guarantee. Sponsors receive the entire school budget directly from the Government. Academies on the scale proposed by the Government have the effect of transferring billions of pounds worth of publicly funded assets in the form of buildings and land into the hands of private sponsors.
Reason two: Many sponsors are unsuitable
Sponsors are not required to have educational expertise or experience. As examples, Academy sponsors include Charles Dunstone, the founder and Chief Executive of Carphone Warehouse, Aston Villa football club, Christian philanthropist, Sir Peter Vardy, of Reg Vardy car dealership and David Samworth, a sausage, pies and ready meals manufacturer.
In October 2009 the Times Educational Supplement reported that a businessman who failed to pay a fine of more than £1 million had been appointed lead sponsor of a new academy, raising serious concerns over the Government’s selection process.
David Hughes, who has been named as the main backer of Birkenhead Boys’ Academy in the Wirral, was involved in a price-fixing scandal when he ran the Allsports chain of sport shops. Mr Hughes’s company was fined £1.35 million in 2003 by the Office of Fair Trading for participating in a cartel that agreed to sell replica football shirts at set prices
Some sponsors have used their involvement in Academies to further their business interests or in the case of some sponsors to impose their individual religious views on a school. More information on this is given in “Academies – Looking Beyond the Spin”.
In November 2009 The Guardian reported that the Government had banned the United Learning Trust (ULT), the largest sponsor of Academies, from taking on new schools until it dramatically improved the ones it already ran. This follows developments in October 2009 when Government concerns about the performance of ULT led to plans for a proposed school being abandoned. ULT a Christian charity that runs 17 Academies, had been the preferred sponsor to run a new school in Dorset.
Two ULT Academies in Sheffield have been described as inadequate by Ofsted. ULT also has a controversial track-record of removing staff. More than half of its headteachers have been replaced within two years of schools opening.
The Government is encouraging Further Education colleges and universities to become Academy sponsors. The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) says: “University sponsorship, like private business sponsorship, undermines local democracy, including directly elected staff and parent representatives on governing bodies. Sponsors have potentially autocratic powers.”
Reason three: Academies Threaten Fair Admissions Procedures
Academies have a destabilising effect on the capacity of other neighbouring schools to achieve a balance of abilities amongst their pupil intakes. The publicity surrounding Academies gives parents the impression that they are the “best” secondary schools in the area irrespective of the quality of other schools. Their brand new buildings and glossy image on show during visits by Government ministers can act as magnets for parents. This has resulted in some Academies being heavily over-subscribed, irrespective of the realities of their educational attainment.
There is a wide diversity of practice regarding admissions in Academies including entrance tests, various forms of banding, sibling places, random selection such as lotteries as well as selection by aptitude. The criteria used by Academies in respect of distance from school, however, also varies. The complexity of these arrangements means that there is a lack of transparency for parents in understanding how the Academies’ admissions systems work.
Academies use “fair banding” procedures to re-engineer their school population. Academies are allowed to apply Criterian Referenced Banding to achieve an intake representative of the national ability profile. Academies in areas with a higher proportion of Band 3 and 4 pupils than the national average will be able to turn some of these pupils away. This will have an impact on other local schools.
Reason four: Academies threaten teachers’ pay and working conditions
All Academies are able to set their own pay, conditions and working time arrangements for newly appointed teachers joining the Academy. In some Academies, pay and conditions arrangements for such teachers are similar or identical to those for teachers in local authority maintained state schools. In others, teachers’ pay and conditions can be very different.
In some Academies teachers are being expected to work an extended day and for more hours in each academic year. Also, in many Academies, teacher and support staff Trade Unions are not recognised, and their have been problems with “TUPE” transfer.
Teachers transferred from predecessor schools replaced by an Academy have their existing pay and conditions entitlements protected under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE). Where the Academy is a new institution, however, all teachers are in the category of newly appointed teacher and no teachers are protected by TUPE.
The TUPE regulations do not protect staff against the loss of employment in the event of a reorganisation after the Academy has been established nor during the process of establishing an Academy. Changes can be made if they are justified for clear economic, technical or organisational (ETO) reasons. Working conditions which are not contractual terms are not protected. Transferees may be likely to encounter changes to areas such as the school day and timetabling.
Many of the current Academies have a two-tier workforce because they operate two different contracts, one for transferees and one for new staff. There is huge pressure from the sponsors to “harmonise” the two groups under the new contract.
Reason five: Academies do not offer pupils a better education than other local schools
Academies are based on a flawed premise that standards will be raised simply through designating a school as an Academy and by transferring it to a sponsor. There is no independent evidence that Academies are delivering significantly improved results at a faster rate than Academies. PriceWaterhouseCoopers Fifth Annual Report, published in November 2008, concluded: “There is insufficient evidence to make a definitive judgement about Academies as a model for school improvement”.
Government figures, announced in September 2009, show that exam achievement has stalled or even regressed at some Academies, with only a small number achieving the Government’s target of 30 per cent of pupils achieving five good GCSEs, including English and maths. It was missed in the 2009 exam results by 40 out of 130 established Academies. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said he would take “tough action” on Academies where exam standards do not meet Government expectations.
Reason six: Academies undermine the independent role of school governors
The governance arrangements for Academies differ substantially from those of local authority schools which have a balance of places for key “stakeholders”, particularly elected parent and staff governors, as well as representatives of the local community and the local authority.
In an Academy, the external Academy sponsor always appoints the majority of governors, even when the local authority is a co-sponsor. Academies are only obliged to have one parent governor.
The DCSF Standards website states that most Academies also have a teacher governor (either elected or appointed), a staff governor (either elected or appointed) and many include community representatives. This is not a requirement however.
Reason seven: Academies have a damaging impact on other neighbouring schools and on local authorities.
Academies can create or reinforce local hierarchies of schools. The entitlement of Academies to select ten per cent of their pupils means that they are able to choose more academically successful pupils.
Figures from various sources show that Academies exclude disproportionately high numbers of students. In the school year 2006/2007 they excluded nearly 10,000 pupils. They were responsible for two per cent of all temporary exclusions and three per cent of permanent exclusions, despite making up only 0.3 per cent of state schools in England. (The Guardian, 25 June 2008.) Academy 360 in Sunderland excluded 40 pupils in the first two weeks in September 2008. (The Times, 18 September 2008.)
In December 2008 the Institute of Education reported that Academies that expel large numbers of disruptive pupils are having a potentially bad impact on neighbouring schools. The Institute of Education’s findings support claims by critics that Academies are failing to meet their original objective of raising standards in deprived areas not only for their own pupils but also for their “family of schools” and the wider community.
A recent development is that of “all-through” Academies, educating primary and nursery age pupils as well as secondary, which involves the closure of existing primary as well as secondary schools. There are currently 16 “all-through” Academies. Bexley was one of the first Academies to pursue this option and considerable unease was reported among the staff of the primary schools involved.
The existence of an Academy can place pressure on other local schools to change their practice or status.
In Hackney, the motivation for a proposed Academy to replace Haggerston Girls’ school was that another Academy, the Bridge Academy, was proposed for a site nearby. Haggerston judged that it would not be able to compete unless it too become an Academy, because of the attraction of Academy status for parents and the additional funding which would accrue.
What we need:
A different approach should be adopted by the Government. No one would want a school to fail whatever its status. Children only have one chance to have a successful school education. We believe that it is precisely because Academies are outside the local authority family of schools that their isolation from local authority support makes them more vulnerable than other schools when problems arise. The Government should:
- return Academies to maintained status;
- halt the expansion of the Academies programme and evaluate urgently the evidence on how schools in very challenging circumstances can be helped to make a difference to pupils’ life chances
- engage in a dialogue with teachers, parents, governors, local authorities, trade unions and other stakeholders on how such schools can be supported, and how the principle of locally accountable, comprehensive education provision can be enhanced;
- establish a forum to encourage businesses or individuals wanting to make a contribution towards the education of young people to do so but in partnership with schools rather than as a take over; and
- legislate for all state-funded schools to be part of their local authorities’ admissions arrangements and to apply national pay and conditions for staff, including trade union recognition.